The Promise of Lent

The Promise of Lent

First Sunday in Lent Year B  Fr Martin Ganeri on how Lent makes real for us the fullness of life that Christ promises.

In the ancient Catacombs in Rome the early Christians painted many scenes from the Bible and one of the most frequently represented is that of Noah and the Ark. The Catacombs were places of burial and places of sanctuary for the early Christians in the dark days before the toleration of Christianity under Constantine. The story of Noah and Ark expressed very well the ambiguity of the situation of those early Christians. On the one hand, the destructive and terrifying waters of the flood expressed the dangers they encountered, as they faced persecution, torture and death. On the other hand, the waters symbolised also the water of baptism and their entry into the new life they had in Christ, as St Peter tells us in the second reading for this Sunday, while the Ark symbolised the Church in which they could experience the salvation Christ offered to them as members of his Body. So the story of Noah and the Ark was a fitting and powerful image for both their fears and their hopes, for both their suffering and their liberation. It symbolised both death and life.

As we start Lent once again we turn our minds to what we might give up. Sometimes these can seem trivial things, like tea or coffee or cakes or sweets, tokens of abstinence. Yet, whatever we give up we usually find that, as the weeks go by, we come to realise how much we miss them and how dependent we are on them. We come to realise how important a role they play in our lives and come face to face with the reasons why: the other stresses and strains in our lives that make such ‘creature comforts’ a way of managing and coping with the demands placed on us. At the same time, it is often also the case that by the end of Lent, if we persevere, we find that we have no appetite for the things we have given up. We have become liberated from them and we feel much better for it. So, giving up things for Lent can teach us much about the ambiguities in our own positions. It can make us realise that we face more fundamental challenges and temptations, but it can also show us that it is possible to be free of things that otherwise control us.

In the Gospel passage from Mark we hear how the Spirit drove Christ into the wilderness, where he remained for forty days, tempted by Satan. On the one hand, he was with the wild beasts, but, on the other hand, he was looked after by angels; symbolising in their own way danger and death, but also deliverance and life. As we begin this Lent, we are invited to enter our own wilderness during these coming forty days. We are invited to enter a wilderness of contemplation, in which we find time to think about our lives and about the need we have of God and of the salvation he gives us in Christ. Lent is a time for us to think about what we really want of God. Just as the things we give us for Lent tend to reveal to us our deeper needs, so the period of forty days as a whole can be an opportunity for us to step away from the busyness of our ordinary lives, in which all the things we do for work or leisure, all the routines we have in place, often distract us from facing what is really important in life, that is to say, from the deeper temptations we face to give in to patterns and habits of sin that damage us and damage those around us, but also from the deeper hunger we have for the life Christ offers to us and which can really make us free.

The three practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that Christ teaches us and which we make a central focus each Lent are wonderful tools to help us as we seek to enter the wilderness of contemplation this Lent. If we pray for what we really want, we are brought face to face with our needs and, if we persist in this prayer, we will also find ourselves schooled by God, as our desires are tested and refined. Silent prayer, or prayerful, attentive reading of the Bible, causes us to reflect more deeply on the reality of God and of what God offers to us. Fasting in all its forms, whether from food or giving up other things, makes us pause a while in the busyness of our lives. Almsgiving, again in the many different forms this can take, whether giving money, material goods, or our time to others, shows us the capacity we have for love. In each of these practices we experience little realities of death and life, of struggle and sacrifice, but also of a freedom to be more than we were, better than we were. They open us up to hear again and more fully the Good News of the Kingdom that Christ proclaims to us, the deliverance from death and the fullness of life he promises and makes real for us.

Readings: Gen 9:8-15  |  1 Pet 3:18-22  |  Mk 1:12-15
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a door panel from an Orthodox church in Valletta, Malta.

Fr Martin Robindra Ganeri is Prior Provincial of the English Province of the Order of Preachers.

Comments (2)

  • A Website Visitor

    Thank you for writing this and the reminder of promise, hope.

  • A Website Visitor

    Excellent thanks for such a faith stirring homily always look forward to the op weekly homily

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